Archive for the ‘review’ Category

HOL sat peopleFrom the back cover: Oslo 1969.

When a wealthy man collapses and dies during a dinner party. Norwegian Police InspectorKolbjorn Kristiansen, known as K2, is left shaken. For the victim Magdalon Schelderup, a multi-millionaire businessman, and former resistance fighter, had contacted him only the day before,  fearing for his life.

This is the second book in the series featuring K2, and his brilliant young associate, the wheel chair bound Patricia, and is dedicated to Agatha Christie. The narration is in the first person by K2, and the plot is a classic in that there are a limited number of suspects, the ten that attended the dinner party, and that the victim is a thoroughly unpleasant character. Therefore the book comes over as being very similar in atmosphere to The Human Flies, the first book in the series. One persistent theme, like the previous book, is events during the German occupation of World War II.

One misconception about Agatha Christie’s body of work is that she wrote the same English country house mystery over and over again, when in fact by varying the location and producing new plot twists she kept her work fresh. If she did parody herself there were usually thirty or forty years between the books.

The ten guests at the Schelderup dinner party, include a wife, two ex-wives, three children from the various wives, a young attractive secretary, and friends who go back to his wartime activities. K2 must negotiate his way through this plethora of suspects, numerous red herrings, and of course in true Christie tradition some of his suspects will not survive till the end of the book. 

The combination of K2 and Patricia is unlike Poirot and Hastings, or Holmes and Watson, and much more like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. K2 tells the story and does the legwork, but Patricia is very much the brains behind the duo.

I found myself faltering while reading Satellite People, as I was distracted by advancing old age, the serious political problems facing this country, and very much more pleasant events. I would not say that Satellite People is a great read because the plot lines are very derivative, as they were intended to be, but this means that it lacks a freshness and the ability to grip the reader. But if you haven’t read a lot of classic crime fiction it is a very interesting take on the genre.

Patricia stared at me wide-eyed for a moment.

‘You surpass yourself,’ she remarked, apparently serious.

My joy lasted for all of ten seconds. Because when she continued it was far less pleasant.

‘I would not have believed it was possible to get so much wrong in two sentences, and at such a late stage of a murder investigation.’ 

 

gray mntnI was encouraged to keep up with John Grisham’s books again after reading posts about the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction on Bill Selnes impressive blog Mysteries and More. Bill is a lawyer in Saskatchewan and he seems to be the sort of legal representative we would all like to have on our side.

Gray Mountain is a novel that shouts out at the injustices in this world. The fact that these injustices are being perpetrated in one of the most advanced economies in the developed world, and a country with a constitution and legal system that should protect the poor from the tyranny of big business got me boiling. In the novel Big Coal aided by $900 an hour law firms crush poor miners affected by black lung, and destroy the beautiful forests of Appalachia.

Last night as I finished reading Gray Mountain I watched a television program about the poorest town in England, Jaywick on the Essex coast, where disadvantaged people many with health problems have seemingly been abandoned by central government. A once thriving holiday resort, Jaywick is now the nearest thing we have to a shanty town in England. 

thanks 2The very poor who live in Appalachia, and in Jaywick happen to be white, but they do have a lot in common with the African Americans of Mississippi, who feature in the brilliant book I began last night, The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson [more on that later].

In that they have no real political power or influence, and little money. You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel for these people.

Political rant suspended, on to the book. 

appalachiaSamantha Kofer, a New York lawyer, is a victim of the recession tossed into the street by Scully & Pershing, the biggest law firm in the world. Andy, a $2.8 million a year partner at the firm, explains the situation, a “furlough”.

” Here’s the deal. The firm keeps you under contract for the next twelve months, but you don’t get a paycheck.”

…..“You keep your health benefits , but only if you intern with a qualified non-profit.”

Samantha is competing with thousands of associates culled by their firms, rejection after rejection follows and then number nine on her list, Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, Virginia, run by Mattie Wyatt offers her an interview and then a position. Brady is a very different world from New York’s rat race.

“Well dear, here at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic, we love our clients and they love us.”

Samantha meets up with Mattie’s nephew Donovan Gray, young handsome lawyer with a tragic past, and learns the harsh reality life of for the poor in Appalachia. Donovan is fighting the destruction of the mountains to get at the “black gold”, and battling mining companies to get meagre benefits for miners crippled by the debilitating black lung disease. It turns out to be dangerous work as Big Coal is quite prepared to use hired goons and well as ruthless lawyers to preserve their lucrative business. 

Gray Mountain another fine book from the master of legal fiction that is both an excellent holiday read, and a campaign on behalf of the beautiful mountains of Appalachia. 

I haven’t managed to save the world yet but I am making progress. My clients are poor people with no voice. They don’t expect me to work miracles and all efforts are greatly appreciated.   

Liza MarklundThis is the tenth book in the continuing saga of journalist Annika Bengtzon, and takes place a few months after the events of Borderline. I am a great fan of these books which mix crime, details of modern journalistic technique, and the chaotic personal life of Annika, a flawed but likeable character. Annika’s skill as an investigative journalist is contrasted with her poor choice of men, a failing that has caused her much trauma in the past.

The story begins with the discovery of the brutally tortured body of business man and former politician, Ingemar Lerberg. His children are being looked after by his sister-in-law, but his wife Nora is missing. Annika begins to cover the case, and then a second body is discovered hanging from a tree. Karl Ekblad, a man with a business in Spain.

Something to do with property and industrial rights of ownership, the acquisition of property, unlimited trade and acquisition, leasing, sales and rental….. 

The other plot lines in the book, involve the return of Nina Hoffman to policing as she becomes an analyst at National Crime, Annika’s ex-husband Thomas attempting to readjust to life handicapped by the loss of his hand cut off by kidnappers in Somalia, and the internet trolling of Anders Schyman, Annika’s boss, with reference to a story that won him the Best Journalism award almost two decades earlier. The narrative is like a lot of  Swedish crime packed full of detail, of which a small portion is about torture, but is very readable and not too long at 346 pages. 

Annika is now living with Jimmy Halenius, with whom she began an affair in Borderline, and not only has to look after the needs of her own children, Kalle and Ellen, but his twins Serena and Jacob as well. The twins live with Jimmy all the time, and their mother Angela Sisulu, works for the South African government living in Johannesburg. Annika’s family life has become even more complicated as her relationship with Serena is rather strained, and Jimmy may get a promotion which requires him to move away from Stockholm. 

Nina stood outside the front door looking at the nameplate. Four surnames, a mixture of Swedish and foreign. These people had clearly chosen to live together (well, maybe not the children).

Some readers might be irritated that some of the plot lines are not completely resolved, and left for another book, but devotees of the Annika Bengtzon series will simply look forward to the next good read. Without a Trace is a very good example of why Swedish crime fiction has become so popular over the past decade.   

rickmanThe author Phil Rickman was recommended to me by Philip in British Columbia, a reader who knows a lot more about crime fiction than I do. 

I chose The lamp of the Wicked because there was a link to the real life killings perpetrated by the notorious serial killer Fred West. I enjoyed the book with its clever plot, and memorable characters especially the vicar Merrily Watkins, and her troubled teenage daughter Jane. The social commentary was very up to date with comments on  how rural areas are ruined by both new buildings to accommodate those fleeing from the overcrowded cities of the UK, and rich city folk buying cottages in pretty villages and only using them as  weekend retreats or holiday homes. The interesting theory that all that electricity around us, power cables, phone masts, computers, mobile phones etc can affect the brain waves of sensitive individuals is covered brilliantly in the story. 

This book was more than crime fiction it was a virtually a social history of rural communities, and the stresses they face. Merrily, the diocesan exorcist, or more correctly deliverance consultant, is a wonderfully flawed character, but her heart is in the right place, and she is surrounded by cast of many interesting characters. If the book has any minor faults it is there are too many plot strands, too many characters, and too many pages. But the book kept my interest for the whole 610 pages, not an easy task.  

The narrative starts with a disagreement between Gomer Parry and wide boy Roddy Lodge about the installation of septic tanks. That grabbed my interest because during the fifteen years I lived in a Devon longhouse I unfortunately became a bit of an expert on septic tanks! People would sometimes actually phone and ask my advice. That advice was usually “move to a house on the main drainage system”. Septic tanks situated close to the house are trouble, although there are ways to get round the problem. 

The Lamp of the Wicked was a very good tense read, but perhaps a bit too long for some readers.

Despite the fog, the square was collecting its nightly quota of upmarket 4x4s: well-off couples coming to dine-on a Monday night for heaven’s sake-at the Black Swan and the restaurant that used to be Cassidy’s Country Kitchen. 

The Monday diners were mostly the youthfully retired with up to half a century to kill before death.  

carlottoGang of Lovers is a taut sharply written shortish novel which is a good example of Italian hard boiled noir. Marco Buratti, aka The Alligator, and his associates, Max the Memory and Beniamino Rossini have been traumatised by the events of a long gang war against new style criminals, people with no honour or standards. 

The modern world, in that sector, was by then all mafia: multinational, a cross section of every and all kinds of corrupt institutional power. Corrupt and toxic.

When enriching yourself illegally means poisoning people and the places they live, devising latter-day slave trades, and working hand in glove with politicians, businessmen, and moguls of high finance, then free men with a conscience decide it’s time to leave the party.

When Oriana Pozzi Vitali, an elegant wealthy Swiss lady asks for help in finding out the fate of her lover, who was kidnapped, Marco after a lot of hesitation takes the case. Oriana had failed to pay the ransom demanded by the kidnappers and as a result her Guido had disappeared.

It was usually a missing person. Maybe her daughter had run off with a stable boy, or her husband had run off with the cook. As I stubbed out my cigarette I mused on the fact that once upon a time, nobody would have dreamed of running away with a cook, male or female.

Times have changed. These days, chefs were stars and had opinions about everything.

Before long, we’d have a chef running the country. 

 

The story is told from the three different perspectives of Marco Buratti, a cop called Campagna, and the villain of the story Giorgio Pelligrini, an amoral brilliant criminal with a “talent” for exploiting and abusing women. The narrative contains accounts of eating in numerous restaurants, and discussions about food, as well as murder and mayhem. The dialogue is sometimes brutally cynical as Marco, and Giorgio indulge in an addictive game of cat and mouse.

It is a fact that most crime fiction is read by women, and I wonder what they make of  the character of Giorgio Pellegrini, a man who totally dominates his women. 

Sweat was streamming down her body, her hair was matted to her head. Complete physical collapse was imminent. I helped her off the bike and laid her down on the wall-to-wall carpeting. I ripped off her panties and yanked open her legs.

Martina welcomed me gratefully.

Gang of Lovers is Italian “hard boiled” noir but with the shell left on. 

ghostCamille671934

 

 

 

 

 

I read Pierre LeMaitre’s Camille [reviewed here], Death’s Jest-Book by Reginald Hill, The Ghost by Robert Harris, and only just started the Petrona Award winner The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. 

Death’s Jest-Book is another big blockbuster of a novel being both a sequel to Dialogues Of The Dead, and also having several new intriguing sub-plots. The fact that two 600 page books can be read without too much of a struggle is a tribute to one of our greatest crime writers, and the wonderfully quirky characters created by Reginald Hill. It was quite sad to say goodbye, even temporarily, to Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldy, Hat Bowler, “Ivor” Novello, Franny Roote, and their relationships and problems.

The Ghost by Robert Harris is a brilliant read, but not quite my cup of tea, I much prefer his historical fiction books Fatherland, Enigma and An Officer And A Spy, simply because modern politics seems still a bit too raw as we still face the problems discussed in The Ghost. 

The Ghost is roped in to rewrite the autobiography of an ex-British Prime Minister called Adam Lang, who despite the usual disclaimer that any resemblance to actual persons is entirely coincidental bears a strong likeness to a recent British politician. The real Lang was a master of illusion, won three general elections, and was surrounded by political colleagues some of whom spent more time plotting his demise than running the country. 

In the book the previous “ghost” writer has met an untimely end apparently falling off the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Our new ghost, a man who does not know anything about politics, and who is never named, discusses the manuscript he is to rewrite with Amelia, Lang’s personal assistant.

‘Honestly? I haven’t had so much fun since I read the memoirs of Leonid Brezhnez.’ She didn’t smile. ‘I don’t understand how it happened,’ I went on.

‘You people were running the country not that long ago. Surely one of you had English as a first language?’

Author Robert Harris fell out with New Labour, and our ex-PM, over the Iraq War, a conflict which may well go down in history as one of the greatest strategic mistakes since Cornwallis marched his army into Yorktown. But who knows………..

 

CamilleAnne Forestier, the beautiful new woman in Commandant Camille Verhoeven’s life is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and is severely injured during a violent robbery at a Paris jewellery store in the Galerie Monier.

Camille is distraught and gets the case assigned to him in breach of regulations failing to tell his superiors of his relationship with Anne. The story of the hunt for the perpetrators is told from multiple perspectives in a sharp frenetic narrative, with very vivid descriptions of the violence. The reader is taken through the thoughts and actions of the unnamed villain, and this is contrasted with Camille’s  efforts to track down the man identified by Anne from photographs of criminals with a similar modus operandi.

This is a dark police procedural with the difference that Camille breaks every rule risking his career in an attempt to protect Anne from further injury, or death. 

Every time he thinks about her, Camille cannot help but wonder what she sees in him. He is fifty years old, almost bald, and most important he is barely four foot eleven. 

When a book contains descriptions of violence it has to have in my opinion a redeeming feature to put it at the highest level. Alex, Pierre LeMaitre’s International Dagger winning novel had a brilliant plot twist, unfortunately the plot twist in Camille is rather obvious from the beginning.

I wanted to rate this book as a potential winner of the International Dagger, after all as a reader of below average height I feel a certain affinity and a lot of sympathy for Camille. His character dominates the novel, but surely after the murder of his wife, Irene,  the man has taken enough punishment. 

But despite the wonderful swift pace of the narrative I was slightly disappointed with Camille, which I thought was slightly let down by the fairly obvious plot twist. 

Art the end of the book there is a useful translator’s note about the judicial system in France [and much of Europe], which is so very different from that in the UK and USA. I remember a documentary about the International serial killer Jack Unterweger, when Florida police travelling to his trial in Austria were slightly confused by the absence of a jury. 

Camille is a good crime fiction read, but not in my opinion as good as number two in the trilogy Alex, or Deon Meyer’s Cobra or Leif G.W. Persson’s Free Falling As If In A Dream, the two other contenders for the International Dagger that I have read.

The catalogue of his lies is becoming dangrously long. But it is not this that terrifies Camille. It is knowing that Anne’s life is hanging by a thread. And he is utterly powerless.

 

 

Falling Freely, As If In A Dream by Leif GW Persson (tr Paul Norlen) – published by Transworld.
Camille by Pierre Lemaitre (tr Frank Wynne) – published by Quercus.
Cobra** by Deon Meyer (tr K.L Seegers) – published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Arab Jazz by Karim Miské (tr Sam Gordon) – published by MacLehose Press.
The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo (tr Isabelle Kaufeler) – published by HarperCollins.
Into a Raging Blaze by Andreas Norman (tr Ian Giles) – published by Quercus. 

I have read two books from this shortlist. The link above is to my review of the last book in Leif G.W.Persson’s trilogy about the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. I sometimes wonder if I am the only person in the world to have read the complete three volume “story of a crime”, and the only person to have enjoyed it? I needed the exercise, both mental and physical, involved in tackling these hefty books.

I have extracted below my comments about Cobra made in a review of my summer reading last September 13. I do have Camille by Pierre LeMaitre translator Frank Wynne ready to read after my current door stop read, but I probably won’t read the others unless one of them wins. 

Cobra** by Deon Meyer translated from the Afrikaans by K.L.Seegers is a fast moving thriller set in Cape Town. Benny Griessel is called to a bloodbath when trained bodyguards have been executed at a luxury guesthouse by a professional killer, or killers, leaving behind distinctive shell casings marked with a cobra. A mysterious Briton Paul Morris, a man seemingly with no past, is missing presumed kidnapped.

Meanwhile charming young pickpocket Tyrone Kleinbooi is plying his trade in order to help pay for his sister Nadia’s university fees. But when he is picked up by security guards for stealing a beautiful foreigner’s purse, a figure intervenes killing the guards but allowing Tyrone to escape leaving behind his mobile phone.

Tyrone still has the disk wanted by the killers, and when Paul Morris is identified a race develops to save him and Nadia who has been seized by the Cobra killers. Yes it is all very complicated, and exciting. Although Cobra is marketed as a Benny Griessel novel, my favourite police person in the novel is:

Captain Mbali Kaleni was the only woman in the DPCI’s Violent Crimes Team. For six long months now. She was short and very fat. She was never to be seen without her SAPS identity card on a ribbon around her neck, and her service pistol on her plump hip. When she left her office, there was a huge handbag of shiny black leather over her shoulder.

She is my favourite character because doesn’t fit the stereotype of women cops in crime fiction, and above all she is honest.

‘State security eavesdropping on us, taking over a criminal case. Just like in apartheid times. We are destroying our democracy, and I will not stand by and let it happen. And it will, if we let it. I owe it to my parents’ struggle, and I owe it to my country.’

Another fine book that should be a contender for the International Dagger. 

HummfliesDoD Reginald HillThe weather in April was very good and that meant less reading, and more travelling around the glorious Devon countryside. Roaming around the scenic Jurassic coast at Budleigh Salterton and Seaton, and the stark  beauty of Dartmoor, as well as the idiosyncratic market towns, we constantly realise how lucky we are to live in the South West of England. I should get employment with the Devon Tourist Board.

I read the two strong contenders for the Petrona Award, The Hummingbird and The Human Flies,  and as light relief Dialogues Of The Dead by Reginald Hill.

Dialogues is one of Reginald Hill’s door stop novels at over 550 pages, but it is an easy read [the print size is large enough to be read by septuagenarians, a vital matter for this reader]. There is a laugh on every page, and  just when you think you have identified the murderer, he or she is bumped off. I did get it right in the end, but only after my first choice met an untimely end. Dialogues is classic Reginald Hill, erudite with a Dickensian cast of characters joining with the usual suspects of Dalziel, Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldy and playing a big part in this novel DC “Hat” Bowler. Shirley Novello is recovering from a gunshot wound which she received  in the previous novel Arms And The Women, so Hat becomes a vital member of the investigative team, who are always one step behind a deranged serial killer. But of course Reginald Hill’s take on the serial killer novel is very different from most other writers.

‘ I’m just thinking, shouldn’t we concentrate a little harder on solving this case, sir, rather than finding out who the mole is?’

‘Nay, that’s down to you, Pete. This is one of them clever-cut cases. Old-fashioned bugger like me’s right out of his depth. I’ll fade into the background and let you call the shots on this one.’

Oh yes? thought Pascoe sceptically. Previous experience had taught him that having the Fat Man in the background tended to block out the light.

The news this week of the death of Ruth Rendell was very sad. Rendell’s first book From Doon With Death was published way back in 1964, and it featured one of my favourite detective teams of  Reg Wexford and Mike Burden. For many years I read every Wexford book that was published, and many of the psychological thrillers written under the name Barbara Vine, but unfortunately there isn’t enough time to read everything and I moved on to other authors, while still respecting the subtle plot twists and interesting characters that featured in her books.

In recent years British crime fiction has lost Reginald Hill, P.D. James and now Ruth Rendell, all three were giants of the genre they will be greatly missed.   

Well for once the postie didn’t ring our bell today. He probably thought his delivery time was too early in the morning for retired old age pensioners, but he did leave two very nice parcels on our doorstep. 

cc2Well timed as I had just finished this morning reading A Colder War by Charles Cumming. I had made slower progress with this exciting spy drama, number two in the series featuring disgraced agent Thomas Kell and his former boss the glamorous Amelia Levene, simply because of the wonderful early spring weather we have been having on the English Riviera.photo

When MI6’s top man in Turkey is killed in a plane crash Kell is called back again to track down a possible mole. After a suitably slow start, with Kell mixing work and pleasure [no spoilers], the action and the trade craft becomes fast and furious as Kell journeys from Ankara, and Istanbul, to London and Odessa to track down the mole. An excellent read with an ending that makes you want to read the next in the series. I am usually not keen on endings that leave the reader wondering what happens next, but this is cleverly done and probably more authentic than a nice cosy finish. My copy had bonus content including the author’s interesting essay on The Changing Face of Spy Fiction, making A Colder War a very good read. 

But what was in those two parcels?

ricciardizagrebIn the first was thanks to Daniela Petracco of Europa Editions a copy of Maurizio De Giovanni’s new Commissario Ricciardi novel Viper. I have read and reviewed the first three books in this fine series, but the next two sit unread on my shelf. But I have now promised myself that I will read Viper first, and catch up with the others at a later date.

Karen from Euro Crime knowing that I have read all of the previous nine Bernie Gunther thrillers very kindly arranged for the folks at Quercus to send me an uncorrected proof of The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr, the tenth book in the series. 

Now I don’t mind if it rains, my reading for the rest of February is planned out.